Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Are The Odds?

Seeds are a gamble.  When you go to a nursery and pick out a plant you can check under the leaves for bugs, look for signs of chewing or wilting, even pull the plant out of the pot and check the roots.  Not seeds. They show up in little packets and you plant them, give them light, water and sometimes.... nothing happens. It might mean the conditions weren't right.  Perhaps you forgot to stratify or scarify them.  Perhaps the seed just wasn't viable.  Like my onions.

I planted Rossa di Milano onion seed several weeks ago.  The pack promised beautiful, large, heavy yielding red skinned onions.  It is also dated 2007.  Four years ago these seeds were viable.  This year, not so much. I planted the entire packet knowing they were getting old and only one seed germinated.  I had hopes they might still be good but let this be a lesson.  Use those seeds while they're still useful.  Onion seed, now that I checked, is viable for approximately 2 years.  Not 4 years.  Before you go and throw out all your seed though be warned, not all seeds are the same.  In fact tomato seed can last up to 10 years.  The best practice is to date your seed packages when you purchase them and each year before planting check to make sure each type of seed is still viable.  If you're a gambler like me and you've got some spare room then go ahead and try planting those seeds, who knows, you might just get an onion or two.




In addition to the onions I also planted Clear Pink heritage tomatoes, Bonny Best tomatoes, basil, amaranthus, mystery seed from MIL, and cosmos.  The good news is that everything is growing well.  VERY well.  I have over 20 tomato plants, a dozen or so basil, another 20 amaranthus.  Maybe I should have planted less seed?  Not necessarily, check out this flat of tomatoes.


Out of the 6 seeds that were planted only 5 sprouted and only two of those (the two in the back) look to be really robust.  That plant in the middle only has one leaf!   The two in the foreground have some weird lines in their cotyledons and are slightly curled.  These three seedlings are all compromised to a certain degree.  A weak seedling makes for a weak plant and should be culled.  Planting extra seed isn't wasteful, it just ensures that you're able to pick only the strongest plants for your garden.  By starting off with strong plants you're likely to have less problems in your garden at a later date.

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Just a reminder that if you haven't yet added a comment to my last post 'Changes are Afoot' there is still time to do so.  The draw for the prize will take place this Friday, April 8, 2011.

14 comments:

  1. And weed seeds are viable for hundreds of years!!! My tomato seedlings are doing very well.

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  2. I was thinking the same as Bonnie, weed seeds seem to last forever guess that's why there are so many of them, so this post tells me why the old seed packets I used up last year came to nothing they were past their use by date, thanks Marguerite for this info, as weed and wild seeds grow so well it just never occured to me bought seed goes off I've always thought it was me, Frances

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  3. Bonnie is right.. weed seeds last forever, centuries or something.

    I'm dying to know what the mystery seeds from the mother in law turn out to be.

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  4. Not only do they last, they hibernate deep below. Tilling deeply brings them to the surface. My grower always says watch how deeply you till if you do it at all.

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  5. LOL! I hadn't even thought about that but you're all right. Weeds DO last forever!!

    Laurrie - me too! I planted the ones marked pink with white center. They are only just starting to sprout their true leaves.

    Frances - seed viability is a tricky business. I remember when I was doing seed collecting that various experts stated a certain plant couldn't possibly be viable after x amount of years and yet one of our growers managed to germinate them. So there's always a chance but generally fresh seed is the best.

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  6. I planted a container of zinnias this year and only one came up! Now he's perfectly healthy and happy, but come on now. I wonder how long those seeds were on the shelf?

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  7. Jess, that sucks. Starting seeds is always a bit sketchy but just one! Something to look for next time, one of the signs of a good seed company, they will stamp the date the seeds were collected on the package.

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  8. How true! Anyway, the seed company that I buy from says I can exchange the packet if it doesn't germinate. I have done that before but I do find it a little troublesome since I have to drive a distance.

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  9. Hi Marguerite, Well I guess I should toss a few of the old seed packets that I have left at the bottom of one of my kitchen drawers, if your onions are any indication. I have to add a grumble to the chorus of commenters- it is not fair that the seeds of common weeds can be viable for hundreds of years.

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  10. Great advice on the seeds. I know I save seeds for too long but I'm also willing to take a chance on them and plant extras just in case.

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  11. Sorry about your onions. I am risking no carrots at the allotment this year because I had so much 2-3 year old carrot seed I couldn't bring myself to buy any new! I am getting better about thinning out the weaker seedlings, but really fall down when it comes to potting on pricked out seedlings. I can't bring myself to condemn seedlings that have made it that far to the compost bin. Which explains why I have 20 lemon basil plantlets and 20 campanulas...

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  12. One - what a great company to get seeds from! Some of them here do offer a certain percentage of germination. another good way to know you're dealing with a reputable company.

    Jennifer - it all depends on what kind of seeds they are and how old. I would give them a last chance before tossing them. you just never know.

    Kim & Victoria - welcome! I think sometimes seeds are just so easy to toss into a drawer we're willing to continue hanging on to them for years and years. I'm trying to get a 5 year turnaround on my seeds. If I'm not planting them then obviously I don't care that much so I need to make way for new stuff.

    Janet - I've read that carrot seed can last up to 6 years under good storage conditions. I suspect you'll likely get some great carrots yet this year. I have to admit my onion seed was not stored well. During our move seeds were stashed in a hot and sometimes damp trailer. Not ideal conditions. I know what you mean about tossing out seedlings. After all that work it's so tempting to keep them. I ended up throwing out the one leaf tomato but the ones with the weird markings I held onto. In the end I just couldn't throw them out. I might regret that.

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  13. And alas, some of the newer sweet pea seeds that I just bought refused to germinate this year. Never had that happen before....

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

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  14. Jen - that's really frustrating. I don't think I've ever had a packet where nothing germinated. any chance you can return them?

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